Couple of notes. None of which are to bag on you, or the game or the team.
1. The White Tactical Battle screen.. Uhm actually, I reported it time after time during Beta. Not to mention it was in my beta videos. And I also made sure to provide dropbox files, for it and even went so far as to include screen shots.
1a. So if you didn't know that, then there was a failure somewhere, because it was reported.
2. I'm glad you're looking into the environment at work you've created around yourself. And to find out if it's just to hard to report the hard truths. By that same token, as a beta tester, none of us were getting paid. So there was never an expectation that our opinion on release dates was something to be an option. Because you said as much. Which I do believe you mentioned, as taking responsibility for. As for other companies, that I've tested for over the years, no matter how accurate the beta-tester was about the state of the game or it's readiness for release. Game companies for whatever reason do NOT listen to the testers. Often because of the nature of being several builds behind the current ones.
That's something that maybe you should look at internally. Cause if you had asked that all critical question of the testers. Is the game ready to go live. And several other questions, like focus polls. You could of avoided this entire thing. Maybe you should get someone to act as a bit of a compass with the state of the games. Cause if you had asked if it was ready. Based upon what we had seen. I would of given you my full honest unbridled opinion. No. The game was not fun. The things you implied that were waiting to make the game "Fun" with the release. Really were Not all that fun. Hell in order for me to have fun, I had to spend a few hours modding in my own fun. And in truth going through XML code is tedious as a customer. Just to find the fun.
3. Which then goes to a greater vision. You had said in the past, your vision of the game was going to alienate customers. Non-traditional fantasy. That you approached things as an engineer, not necessarily as a famous Will Wright, or Sid Meier designer. Well you don't need to have visionaries of their quality on the deck. But, this game clearly needed a fantastic vision. Something that would rival Master of Magic. Fantasy Civilizations with flavors of D&D. Those are great, but it certainly doesn't feel like what came out. From watching videos of MoM, Elemental isn't it's spiritual successor. It's got it's own identity. And it didn't include the great things that MoM did right.
That's a big issue. As games come along, with "new" IP's.. they still look back at predecessors. To learn from what they did right. Not just from a commercial point of view, but what was fun, what was fantastic. Look at the MMO markets. You know why WoW is so popular? They found a great art style that was pleasant to watch, and easy on the computers. They looked at all other MMO's that had come out before it, and then went about crafting a game that was compelling and interesting. But they learned from Everquest, and UO, and other games... and they took an incredibly popular IP.. (which was bitten off virtually wholesale from the entire Games Workshop library, but tweaked enough to see "Original", and eventually did in a sense become that.) and ran with it. But they also stayed true to the philosophy of not releasing the game until it was ready. Though ironically, that game when I beta-tested it.. I knew immediately it was going to be a mammoth. It was highly addicting, and was simply fun.
Elemental. Has this theoretical FUN just waiting to be unleashed. But, I'll be truly honest Brad. It' needs a more coherent vision realized. And I'm not saying it "Has" to be my version of fun. But I've been a pretty good barometric for what was going to be popular. And I kept seeing what I thought would be fun. Because of the potential. But the game I was playing.. (while testing).. really wasn't as it was.. it was the potential.
4. Learning from the mistakes.
To me, you've got this one in the bag. You've take the responsibility for well... everything.. from the bland game that you "Felt" was the best one you've put together to date. To having made a catastrophic mistake in being to close to the game by being a programmer. And not sitting back and looking at what the game was playing as. But as part of the catharsis of this entire process. I think you need to search inwardly to find the answers to these issues.
5. Translating the dream in your mind into the virtual realm. But also realizing that your customers have dreams as well. And while they don't all match, and often frequently do not. Listening to them. Putting together the equivalent of an action team, to focus on finding the "FUN" of the game. Who are able to dispassionately distance themselves from saying "Yes" this is great. To being honest. And that goes back to being critical in the way you process the entire presentation. I don't know if you're familiar with Sanya "Tweety" Weathers, or Scott "Lum the Mad" Jennings, who were critical of various MMO's, but who ultimately ended up in the industry. The one thing that you were sure of as a reader of their rants. Besides that they brought the funny. They also told it truly like it is. Punches were NOT pulled. Well you have testers out here who if you would of indicated you would of listened too.. would of been just as blunt, and truthful. So you need to foster that in future processes.
6. Stardock will learn from this. No doubts about it. Easily one of my favorite companies out there. Still are, and have been.
7. And I as a preorder customer, I'm happy having invested in the future of Elemental. And I for one do NOT want a refund. Because.. of the potential I see in this game. A lot of the stuff mentioned, reminds me a LOT of a great D&D campaign. I relate things to D&D for fun, because I've been DMing now for 28 years. And know what's "Fun" and what gets people interested and having fun. From interesting monsters, to situations, to how to bring battles to the edge, where they player isn't sure they are going to win, so it's got a greater emotional impact. Riding that razor's edge. And I see that Elemental is one of those games where the DM has a LOT of great ideas, that just don't translate into the game play. But the players, kept playing because of the camaraderie. But they all agree that the game isn't that great. And then.. a new DM comes along, and just buffs the HELL out of the game, and starts running sessions that blow everyone away. Finding that cinematic awesomeness! So where I see Elemental, possibly going.. is based off of it's potential. But I accept that I may be disappointed through this process. That what I think you guys need to do to really make the game pop.. may not be what your interested in doing. Okay, I accept that. But please, please, please, please, please! Listen to your customer's. And your preorders. We came in early, and there were MANY ideas from that time, that would of made a truly fun game. (Part of my belief about Elemental being just the bees knees for potential.). Well maybe you should contact some of them again, and talk with them live. You've done it before in the old days when trying to solve problems by calling them. Well cull your lists of people who seemed to have good ideas. Get some consensus live. Human to human interaction. Not just a massive compiled super list.
8. Keep on, keeping on. Your actual loyal customers, will still be here. Because we know you'll make it right. And not like that CEO from Domino's pizza who gets choked up about the pizza from the guy in Minnesota. Because that seemed disingenuous. And while you got a barrier around you to a degree, your honesty is truly compelling. And we'll still be here.
Thanks for your Time.
Sincerely and Respectfully,